Candidates, start your campaigns.
A bill that would have delayed Annapolis elections -- and the mayoral aspirations of city politicians -- for a year has been shuffled off to a legislative committee for more study.
City council and mayoral races are scheduled for next year. The bill proposed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller would have forced all 156 municipalities in the state to postpone their elections so they would coincide with statewide elections in 1998.
Annapolis city council members, eager to start campaigning for the seat of Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, who is forbidden to run for a third term, called the legislative maneuver good news.
"I think if we had to delay the elections for another year, temperatures would rise and, toward the end, you would see inflamed bickering between the candidates," said Alderman Wayne Turner, a Ward 6 Republican who is undecided about a run for mayor.
"Most of us have real jobs," Mr. Turner said. "So, to go from your jobs to council meetings to campaign staff meetings to door-to-door campaigning, you're pretty much wiped out. We couldn't take another year of that."
City aldermen who opposed the bill said that although a uniform election schedule would save money by doubling up on elections, it would confuse voters and diminish the importance of local issues.
The bill was intended to increase voter turnout for local elections, but it would hurt the city more than help, aldermen said.
Annapolis' turnout for the last general election was 48 percent, compared with 22 percent in Baltimore and 10 percent in Westminster.
"I am convinced that it would undoubtedly increase voter participation if we voted all at once for national, state and local candidates," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who is planning to run for mayor. "And I am sure that it would be cheaper to hold the elections all at once, but I think we miss the unintended
effect it would have on local elections.
"For one thing, those of us running on the local level would have to compete against state and national candidates for campaign volunteers and dollars," the Ward 5 Democrat said. "It would also put emphasis on partisan politics, something which we don't deal with as much in our local elections."
Alderman Shep Tullier, a Ward 4 Democrat, agreed, calling the mixing of election issues "a leap between potholes and stadiums."
"Our hometown issues don't have the same glamour as the state and national issues," said Mr. Tullier, who is undecided about running for mayor.
Despite a move toward uniform elections nationally, many municipalities are against the idea, said Stephen R. McHenry, associate director of the Maryland Municipal League.
"We are very strongly opposed to the idea," he said, citing the same problems other detractors did. "There has to be a better way of generating voter turnout."
An idea worth looking into, Mr. McHenry said, is one proposed by Volusia County, Fla., which would have municipal elections on the same date but hold them in odd-numbered years instead of even-numbered years, when statewide elections are held.
That would avoid crowded ballots, keep the focus on local issues and candidates, and eliminate confusion about when municipal elections were being held, he said.
Although the bill that would delay the Annapolis election has been set aside for further study, Annapolis aldermen said they will introduce a resolution at the next council meeting "to let the state know the city wants to be left alone."
"We just want to be left out of this proposal," said Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, a Ward 7 Democrat. "We do just fine on our own. If it went through, it would drag everyone's term out for another year, and I don't think anyone wants that to happen. It would be forever known as the term that wouldn't end."